C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

On Writers, Publishing and Entitlement (with jokes in parentheticals)

This is not a story about titles. You’re thinking of “titling.” We digress today from the relentless cheerfulness and positivity of this blog to have a look at how some in traditional publishing still see us.

But first, since what’s to come triggered a memory of indignity, a story from the trenches: 

I was once a sales rep representing several publishing houses. Hang in there for the big honkin’ point at the end.

Once upon a time I worked for an oh-so-serious publishing house in downtown Toronto. We published oh-so-serious books that were sometimes hard to sell. No surprise. We were Canadian, after all. Worse, we published books that had to sound Canadian, or vaguely British, and not even of the 20th Century. (Told you this was an old war story.)

Unfortunately, the publishing house was close to a then-fairly-famous bookstore. The publisher would take authors out to lunch. On the way back from that hoity-toity lunch, the publisher would take authors to that bookstore to say, “We put your book on that shelf and aren’t we both so lucky to be fabulous swells? No promises on your next novel, but I’ll try to get you a government subsistence grant which I shall pen from my Swiss Chalet.” (Not the chicken restaurant. An actual Swiss Chalet. You get the classist dynamic.)

The publisher, a wealthy glitterati, was draped in diamonds even during the day, not knowing that was gauche and should be reserved for dining at night (with Queen Elizabeth.)

The author, a poverty-stricken member of the lowly literati, wore elbow patches on his ratty old sports jacket. Not to appear avuncular and professorial. To cover actual holes. The ink-stained wretches get the crumbs their betters forget to throw to the dogs. Traditional publishing hasn’t changed that much through the years. (This was the late ’80s. Now, there are no lunches with the wretches. Just ignored emails. Anyway, you get the income inequality dynamic.)

One terrible day, the bookstore tour backfired.

The nearby bookstore did not have the author’s book. We published it and it was not there. (Clutch those pearls. Here’s where it gets ugly.) The bookstore owner, infamous for being a dick, did not order the book in question in any quantity. They weren’t “out”. They didn’t order and didn’t plan to do so. (“Ev-er!” as we used to say.) The publisher was wounded and embarrassed, of course, for herself and for the author. (Soon the rage would be turned on me, your-ever-loving Chazz, so don’t feel too bad for her.)

The dick didn’t want that crap novel in his store, as was his right. He didn’t like the author’s work and he didn’t like the author personally. That was perfectly understandable. Nobody but snobs liked that author’s books and nobody but his mom liked the author. I especially didn’t like him after he threw (as we called it back in the day) “a hissy.”

I was the sales rep to that bookstore. I received the publisher’s anguished memo recounting her horror. The note ended with two words, “What’s wrong?!”

Since she was the boss and also the acquisitions editor for this boring book and this insipid author, naturally, we couldn’t tell her the truth. I wanted to express exactly what I’ve written here since I wasn’t being paid enough to lie. I campaigned for the truth. However, a cooler head prevailed and my immediate boss dragged his sorry ass over to the dick’s bookstore and grovelled to get it in stock.

I felt bad for him. And me. I’d already done my job. I tried to sell the dick a book and he said no and we moved on to the other 100 books in the catalogue because that’s what grown-ups do, even when they hate each other’s guts. (That bookstore is now closed. The dick is still alive. In related news, voodoo dolls do not work. At least they don’t work this far north of the equator.)

The first point is that no one can force any place that sells books into selling any particular book. Free will and freedom and eagles and moose and all that and whatnot. It’s a business and the author in question wasn’t a social fellow. The bookstore owner wasn’t a social fellow. Their poor sales rep (i.e. me) was in the middle and I didn’t appreciate dealing with either of them.

Do I regret my time as a sales rep for big publishing? I’ve learned more as a micro-publisher. As a micro-publisher, I finally found love. Thank you. 

And now…the point: A video to blow your mind.

Today I witnessed a spectacle of what The Passive Guy of The Passive Voice refers to as Amazon Derangement Syndrome. I’m about to provide you a link that shows a lot of things. I see derangement, certainly. Also, a sharp tang of smug even I have never aspired to. On the video you’ll see a lot of fear and other weirdness. Calling Amazon a monopoly when they are merely winning at competition, for instance, is pretty weird.

You will also witness entitlement. Make that Entitlement with a big E. As in, how dare Amazon not carry certain books even though they are available elsewhere? (It wouldn’t actually matter if they weren’t carried elsewhere, by the way. No bookstore carries all books. Not even online bookstores.)

Or how about this one: How dare Amazon sell Big Publishing’s books at the price that’s stamped on their books? The word “democracy” is floated out there willy-nilly. There is a distinct disconnect from reality. There are also a few lies or blind falsehoods and errors. I’ll let you figure out which belongs to whom. (See the comment thread — below — for help with that.)

For every problem Big Publishing has, they have someone else to blame. Well…one thing, actually. It’s always Amazon’s fault. Pay attention to the guy beside the woman who isn’t really moderating the debate. That’s Passive Guy himself AKA the rational one. The rest are very afraid and make few good points. When James Patterson wheels off into something about burning books, I have no clue what the #$@! he is on about. 

Here’s the video of the most lopsided debate ever.

You’ll also find the comment thread over at The Passive Voice illuminating.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

World’s Biggest: The Unfortunate Death of the Last Big Bookstore and What Happens Next

For a long time I’ve predicted the thinning of bookstores. They’re not going away completely, but you’ll have to drive farther afield to get to one. When I was a sales rep for numerous publishers, the bookstore chains decimated independent bookstores. Most of the little stores I visited with my sample case and catalogues are long gone. Now, it’s the chain’s turn.

Still, I got a shock this week. My shrine is closing.

In the heart of Toronto lies a huge bookstore, three levels and 64,000 square feet. Soon it will empty to the bare walls. The World’s Biggest Bookstore is shutting its doors in February. It was great for treasure hunting. The Indigo book chain’s lease won’t be renewed and tourists and book lovers won’t wander into World’s Biggest anymore. This store, a champion of the paper book, will be no doubt be replaced by high-end condos for people who trade stocks on Bay Street. 

When the sale was announced, the owner of the property (son of the original bookstore owner, Jack Cole, who founded the store in 1980) said the deal is about a real estate sale, not the slow death of the bricks and mortar bookstore. Whether for a massive real estate sale or for other reasons, World’s Biggest is the flagship of the Indigo fleet. It’s going down and will not resurface.

It was a destination bookstore and we won’t see its like again.

Whenever in downtown Toronto, if you could read, you just had to go there to browse. I never left without an armful of books. I took out-of-town friends there to wander the aisles. It was such a great place to hang out and…brace yourself for the unexpected…they didn’t even have to sell coffee, knick knacks and dustables in order to lure people to shop.

There are many other bookstores, of course, but they’re all lookalikes.

In the announcement, the owners of World’s Biggest invited customers to slip down a block or two to visit nearby Indigo locations. I have a chain bookstore down the street from my home that looks exactly like all the others. I don’t need to go to Toronto to get that experience. I don’t even have to drive five minutes to my nearest Indigo bookstore to look at paperbacks. The Starbucks looks busier than the bookstore most days and Amazon’s catalogue is more extensive than any bookstore could possibly offer, anyway.

Amazon is the World’s Biggest now.

My social scene will have to come from Skype and social media. My destination now is my keyboard, my kindle and the ease of the one-click buy. For the Starbucks experience, I’ll set the coffeemaker between the couch and the wood stove. Goodbye, World’s Biggest. I won’t dwell on nostalgia or write a treatise on the tragedy of any more lost bookstores or pen an ode to the smell of book glue.

I write. I read. I stay home. The world turns, turns away, and moves on.

Filed under: Amazon, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , ,

Bookstores: How sick are they?

Cover of "Glass Houses"

Cover of Glass Houses

Recently I’ve seen what I call “backlash” articles* about the health of bookstores. You’ve probably seen them, too. In the wake of the Borders chain closings, some media are hitting back with counter-programming (either out of nostalgia or as a way to stand out.)

Their message is simple:

“We love bookstores and they aren’t all dying. Look at this tiny independent where the defiant owners are making a brave stand.”

I love brave stands. I’m also fond of truth and this is an obvious case where the part is not the whole. It reminds me of all the people who object to the digital revolution with, “Look at all those e-books with all their different platforms. It’s a mess so it won’t survive.” I dislike stupid stands.

Perhaps the problem is confirmation bias. They’re looking for reasons why what will happen, is happening, won’t happen. Whatever bump in the road they find they take gleefully to be an insurmountable obstacle. Actually, multiple platforms for e-books are a sign of health (assuming competition is good in that it keeps prices down and choices up) and of growth (as in growing pains due to rapid, unexpected expansion.) The technology to make us all publishers is developing.

“Developing” implies transition from stupid to primitive to flawed to workable to better to a higher state (and eventually to a new tech.) Instant/indie publishing is not going to be perfect all at once. Nothing is, though not long ago I heard a Luddite say he wasn’t going to buy a computer until the tech wasn’t “perfected.” Hahahaha! He was calling from the corner of Unreasonable Expectations Boulevard and Are You High? Avenue.)

There is  a reductionist view with a subtext that categorizes anyone who predicts the demise of bookstores as a gloating goblin. I’m not gloating. I love bookstores. As (I’ve often pointed out, having milk delivered to the house was convenient, too.)

But I’m not saying bookstores will disappear completely. You’ll just pay more if you want the premium paper product. Heck, you already do that, but the price of old media will rise more. You can still buy turntables, for instance, but if you want to hear the scratches on Billy Joel‘s Glass Houses, you’re paying a very high price for a new needle to make that old pig spin.

Paper books are going to co-exist with e-books for some time…at least until consumers really get kicked in the teeth by manufacturing costs. Books get cheaper when produced in volume, but as digital sourcing rises, e-books don’t have to replace all paper books to make paper book production go from unattractive to cost-prohibitive.

There are too many variables and my brain is too small to say precisely when it will happen. I’m simply confident it will occur and one day, maybe even you will say, “Oh, look, darling! A bookstore! There isn’t a bookstore within 2 days’ drive of our house! Let’s go in and buy coffee and look at their tiny collection. How quaint!”

Yes, Virginia, 100 years from now there will still be paper books.

But you’ll be sewing and gluing the binding yourself.

*Chazz definition: A backlash article is an article written to assure the reader that the writer is the sane voice of wisdom when in fact they’re really just knee-jerk contrarians railing against all evidence. Like how the writers at Slate work from the premise, “We’ll hate on what everyone loves and make snide remarks at what everyone thought unassailable because we’re the sophisticated cool kids! Anything goes as long as it doesn’t agree with Salon.”

Filed under: Books, DIY, ebooks, Media, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: So-called experts & the digital revolution

IRex iLiad ebook reader outdoors in sunlight. ...

Image via Wikipedia

I plan to attend a Writer’s Union of Canada publishing conference in a week. Industry experts will be talking about being a writer in the middle of publishing’s digital revolution. I’m really looking forward to attending, but I’m also prepared to take it all in with the cliched grain of salt.

At a previous publishing conference (different group, not Writer’s Union) I ran into publishers who were very resistant to e-books. Their opinions were so far off I have to wonder if they believed what they were saying. Some said the market shift to e-readers wouldn’t happen from five to ten years!

Meanwhile, I said e-readers would blow up on Christmas morning 2010 and soon got obnoxious and gloated about how right I was. E-reader sales did go crazy. E-book sales are climbing despite the industry’s growing pains.

This is bad news for bookstores. I bought my vast collection of books at bookstores, but no more. I use my library for some reading, but generally, I’m a buyer. I entered a brick and mortar bookstore for the first time since Christmas last week to buy reference books. The cost of paper books is such that I just can’t justify the cost of buying paper novels anymore. That’s what my e-reader is for.

Here’s the kicker: Sony obviously underestimated their own sales. They sold out of e-reader covers before Christmas and Sony won’t even receive new covers to ship until March.

The Writer’s Union conference is next weekend. Yes, I shall report what the experts have to say. I’m hoping this time it lines up with current reality.

Filed under: Books, ebooks, self-publishing, Writing Conferences, , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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